Why does this exist? I understand educational games, but throwing in a huge, well-established character just seems like a lazy cash grab. A good educational game should be able to stand up on its own by mixing good teaching tools with fun. Mario’s Time Machine fails as a teaching tool.

Mario’s Time Machine was developed and published by The Software Toolworks for the Super Nintendo and MS-DOS. Radical Entertainment developed the NES port with Nintendo publishing this version themselves. When this game was released in the early 90s, it was not the first Mario themed educational game; it was preceded by Mario is Missing! (which had the same developer). As you might be able to discern from the title, Mario’s Time Machine is a game meant to teach history. However, I find that as a teaching tool the game fails. As an adult who understands and knows the basic historical content presented in this game, it is extremely easy to get through and beat quickly. The basic gameplay involves you having historical artifacts with an attached document with information on it; this document has blanks in it that you must fill. As an adult, you’ll likely know most, if not all, of the answers without thinking too much. However, if you’re a kid, you may have trouble filling in these blanks. Other than context clues in the document, the game does little to actually teach history beyond blind guesswork and memorization.

The historical content in the game involves major figures, most of them Western European. You’ll visit Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Isaac Newton, Marco Polo, Cleopatra VII, Thomas Jefferson, and Plato, among others. The only major Eastern figure you meet up with is Kublai Khan, and he’s not the main target of that trip back in time. Since this game is targeted at young children and is exclusive to North America, it can be forgiven for ignoring most of Eastern history. The intended market of kids are only going to be learning the basics at this age after all.

All of these random, historical figures across all periods of time, from Ancient Greece to Thomas Edison, are pulled together by a crazy narrative. Bowser has built a time machine and steals all of these critical artifacts to build a huge museum in his castle. I have never considered Bowser to appreciate any history other than one where he has the Princess and rules as supreme evil overlord. Apparently, Bowser was bored so he single-handedly did what our scientists insist is completely impossible. If he used this power for good, who knows what kind of damage he could help alleviate!

After finishing your homework assignment, Mario has to set the year and location he needs to go to give the item back to its rightful owner and help prevent too many space-time anomalies. Any date and location you pick will take Mario into a surfing mini game, which is by far the most fun aspect of this game. During this surfing section, Mario needs to collect aquatic mushrooms and then jump into a whirlpool. If you pick the right location and time, then you see an example of juxtaposed visual design.

The locations and characters throughout Earth’s European-centric history are realistic in design. The backgrounds and sprites would be right at home in a Western PC RPG of the time, where each town would have its resident eccentric that would send you out on some fetch quest to find their astrolabe or sculptor’s pick in the bottom of some dungeon. Mario’s presence in these realistic areas just stands out and looks awkward. His sprite is ripped straight from Super Mario World, so there’s a huge contrast between his cartoony look and the realistic looks of all of the historical locations.

Overall, this game is best avoided for all but the most curious or the completionist collector. It lacks any real fun for an adult and lacks the tools to properly teach kids the dynamic nature of history. The gameplay is rigid and you will ultimately obtain the correct answers without understanding the why or the implications of the work of these influential people. For these reasons, I will likely stay away from any educational Mario games from now on, except perhaps Interplay’s Mario Teaches Typing, but that’s just because I’m a sucker for Interplay games!

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